Monday, April 27, 2015

The Power of Walking

You may be surprised to learn that walking could be the most effective exercise for maintaining lifetime physical fitness, good balance, and  a healthy mind. We take walking for granted, but there is a considerable amount of muscle coordination that goes into  those alternating movements of the body:  the swinging of the arms, the gentle twisting of our torso, the weight bearing and lifting of each leg.

In the developed Western world we are experiencing an epidemic of chronic back pain, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression.  It is no coincidence that all  of these diseases are  largely caused by inactivity.

 People have become less active because of the automobile, TV and computers.  We spend more time sitting at work and at home than we used to. The irony is that if we just spent at least  thirty minutes a day walking we could all be in better physical shape.  

All the chronic diseases I’ve mentioned cost our health systems plenty.  Yet they are preventable.   And walking is the easiest and most cost-effective form of activity.     It is appropriate for all ages, it is safer than other kinds of exercise  and it can be done in graduated  ‘steps’ from baby steps all the way to aerobic ‘exercise walking’ and ‘nordic walking’ with poles.

A year ago, after suffering two bouts of back seizures I discovered the benefits of walking for gently increasing my back’s  range of motion and have been going on regular walks ever since, in spite of my usual preference for cycling.

They say the best things in life are free. To go for a walk with an old friend, and along the way, have a relaxed unhurried conversation - what could be a greater pleasure?

Some of the great English poets like Wordsworth and Byron were serious walkers and there is something to be said for taking a walk in order to think deep thoughts or to mull over something in your mind.

If nothing else, a brisk walk can do wonders to improve one’s  mood and lower stress levels.   It works faster than antidepressants, with mood improvements in minutes instead of weeks, and unlike the pills, all the side effects are beneficial.

People used to walk out of necessity. Then the automobile was invented and you know the rest.   But now that we don’t need to walk to get places we can think of walking in a different way. When I go for my daily walk in Prince Rupert I hear the mysterious and mischievous cries and squawks of the ravens, see them canoodling in pairs and wheeling and diving for the sheer fun of it.   It’s a way to take in the fresh air and to see our natural surroundings.  Walking can do a lot to  strengthen our sense of place.  

And walking doesn’t just have psychological and physical benefits.  It also has social benefits.  It is a very effective community builder.  The more people out walking, the more people are visible outside, bringing the street and the sidewalk back to life.  Walkable cities are more attractive cities, cities that younger millennials want to live and work in.  

Making cities more human-scale and walkable can be done partly by inexpensive changes such as improving and enlarging sidewalks, installing pedestrian lights and traffic calming devices.  

We ought to prioritize walking in city and in public health planning.  The more people walking the less traffic congestion, the healthier and fitter the general public, the safer and pleasanter our neighbourhoods.  Unlike motor vehicles, walking does not lead to more CO2 in the atmosphere.  There are, in fact, no downsides to walking.

If we consider quality of life, walking should be right up there as a top priority.  Chronic illnesses erode the  quality of life.  There is probably  no activity that can do more to prevent and reverse chronic disease for more people than walking. To learn more about the benefits, visit my facebook site Rupertwalks. It's full of fun videos and articles that will help to motivate and inspire.

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